Into this and invited several of our friends over for a gingerbread house party!
I've been making gingerbread houses with the girls every year (though, last year they ended up being graham cracker houses). This year, to celebrate being closer to friends again, I decided to share the fun with them and turn our gingerbread houses into a party. I forced myself to keep the guest list pretty short for this first go around, there were 11 kids total.
4-5 days before the party: I made all the gingerbread. If you are making a lot of houses, you can start this a day or two early so you don't have to do it all at once. I was on the lookout for a new recipe this year and I found one that was a keeper once I made a few small changes. The gingerbread you use to make houses is different than the gingerbread you use to make cookies. It's stiffer and uses less of the spices and other more expensive ingredients. It's edible, but more suitable to holding up a lot of candy than winning any awards for good taste. Also, I'm providing all the measurements by weight, not by volume. This is a lot more accurate way of measuring things like the flour and shortening, and you don't really want to go to all this trouble just to have the houses fall apart, so I'm sticking with weights (even for the liquid ingredients). We have a small, cheap kitchen scale we use constantly that worked just fine for this (I put a measuring cup on the scale, zeroed it out, then added the ingredients).
Building Gingerbread (suitable for houses)
Makes 2 houses
8oz brown sugar
10oz corn syrup (light is fine, dark will make darker dough)
1 Tbsp ground ginger
2.5 pounds flour
2oz warm water
1. Mix sugar, shortening, corn syrup and molasses.
2. Add ginger
3. Slowly add flour, the mixture should be very crumbly
4. Add water. If mixture is still crumbly (especially if there's not much humidity), add up to 2 more ounces of water.
5. Divide into 3 pieces, wrap in saran wrap and chill overnight in the fridge
***Update 12/12/12: I shared a spreadsheet that will create your shopping list for you if you are making multiple houses. Input the total number you want to make, and you'll be given the amount of each ingredient you need to have on hand to be sure you're not running to the store at the last minute. I also learned the hard way that even the Professional model kitchen aid mixer cannot handle a double batch of this dough.
***Update 12/16/13: I've learned that if you continually combine/re-roll your scraps, you can get away with eliminating about one recipe of dough for every 18-20 houses. For instance, for 20 houses, you could make 9 (maybe 8 depending on how thin you make the pieces) recipes instead of 10.
3-4 days before the party: I cut out and baked all the pieces. I got this cookie cutter set*, which kept everything uniform and let me do everything assembly line style. There are a few keys to getting nice pieces that are uniformly shaped. First, is having a well floured surface. Then, roll the dough out about 1/4 inch thick. Once the pieces are cut, use a scraper (this is mine*) dipped in flour to lift the pieces onto the pan without distorting the shape. Bake the pieces on a foil or parchment paper lined cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 15-18 minutes. When the pieces come out of the oven, immediately cut them again with the cookie cutters. I've left out baking soda and baking powder in the dough recipe, but the pieces still puff up a bit. By cutting them as soon as they come out of the oven (when they're still soft enough to cut easily), you make sure to have edges that are straight and line up nicely. Once the pieces have cooled enough to pick up, they need to go on a cooling rack to cool completely. This helps air circulate on all sides so the pieces aren't soft. I stored the pieces overnight by stacking them with paper towels between each piece to absorb any moisture.
2 days before the party: I assembled the walls of the houses. Royal Icing works for this because it dries hard and holds the pieces together. Because we were going to have a bunch of kids over for this activity, who are likely to eat their houses, I used a meringue powder recipe rather than egg whites.
Gingerbread House Mortar
assembles about 12 houses, make extra for decorating
6 Tbsp meringue powder
3/4 c water
2 pounds powdered sugar
1. Mix all ingredients until smooth, add up to 1 cup more powdered sugar if needed. Icing should not drip off a spoon.
You can put the icing in a disposable decorator bag or a quart sized zip top bag and clip the corner off to pipe it on easily. Josh had the great idea of making myself a little template so I knew how big the houses were going to be. I cut out a piece of paper in the same size square the base of each house would be. I was assembling each house on a 10" cardboard cake base*, so I outlined my paper square lightly with pencil, so I had a very easy guide of where to put the icing.
1 day before the party: I put the roofs on the houses. I used icing I had leftover from the day before (kept it in its bag in the fridge overnight) and piped it along the exposed edges. Once both sides of the roof were on, I piped more icing along the middle top to help hold them. The roofs need to be held for a minute or two when they're put on, but they set up pretty quick.
I also made sure I had all the candy I needed this day. I requested each person contribute $3 per house they wanted to decorate to help cover costs (this took care of the candy and cardboard bases, I donated most of the gingerbread ingredients).
The day of the party: I opened up the bags of candy and put it all into plastic bowls. Be sure to split more popular candies into more than one bowl. I also made up another batch and a half of mortar. I put mortar in sandwich sized zip top bags so that each kid would have their own bag of icing to use. Update: I've switched to using disposable decorator bags because they hold up better. I probably could've gotten by with just one batch of icing, but I wanted extra on hand in case we needed it and I used the leftovers to decorate some gingerbread men.
All of the kids showed up right on time. Turns out mine weren't the only ones anxiously wondering if it was gingerbread house time yet. With all the kids lined up at the table with their house in front of them, I got everyone's attention and laid out ONE ground rule before they got started. I asked them to try really really hard not to lick their fingers while they were working so we didn't share a bunch of germs. Then we turned them loose. I asked moms to stay and help their kid(s), which was helpful, I think, but 1 adult for every 3 or 4 kids (depending on ages) would be fine. The 4 and under kids needed a lot of help putting their icing on, the 6 and up kids were almost completely independent. I try to avoid posting pictures of other kids unless their moms also blog, so you'll just have to take my word for it, this was very serious business. Every picture I have, all the kids are very intent on their houses.
(those plain houses in the back are because one poor girl got sick the night before, so she and her brother couldn't come. I packed up icing and candy for them and their mom picked up their houses to decorate at home)
It took 25 minutes for them to cover the houses and decide they needed to go play outside. After all their friends were gone, my girls went back and added a few more pieces of candy.
A fun time was had by all and I think there's a good chance we'll be hosting another (bigger?! or maybe in 2 shifts) party next year!
Update! The post all about the 2012 party (which I made 23 houses for!) is now up.